July 4, 2003: Luke Price, age 3, goes to his first Cincinnati Reds game, only to see Jimmy Haynes and the Reds lose to the New York Mets, 7-2, in the opening year of Great American Ball Park.
With the ballpark area still under development, Luke and his father, Steve, from out of town and not sure where to leave the car, park nearly two miles away from the ballpark. Luke, being age 3, refuses to walk, and father, Steve, is required to carry his young son to the park. Oh, my…at least the temperature is only 86 degrees to go with the normal midwestern high humidity.
The Mets struck first in the third when Timo Perez scored on a Cliff Floyd sacrifice fly. The Reds tied it in the fouth when Jose Guillen led off the inning with a line drive homer to left center field off Mets starter Tom Glavine, Guillen’s 16th homer of the year. The Mets edged to a 2-1 lead in the sixth when catcher Vance Wilson singled home Floyd.
The Mets broke it open in the seventh when Joe McEwing opened with a single and Glavine sacrificed him to second base. Lefty Felix Heredia, having his best season, replaced Haynes on the mound and gave up a pinch single to Raul Gonzalez. Ty Wigginton followed with another single, but then Jeromy Burnitz unloaded on the first pitch he saw from Heredia for a three run home run, giving the Mets a 6-1 lead.
Guillen got one run back in the in the Reds’ eighth with his second home run of the game and 17th of his best season. The Mets scored once more off reliever John Riedling in the ninth on an infield single to give them a 7-2 lead. The Reds and manager Bob Boone did work up a scare in the bottom of the ninth off Mets reliever David Weathers. With one out, Sean Casey lined a single to left field. Pinch hitter Kelly Stinnett followed with an infield single and pinch hitter Reggie Taylor took Weathers to a full count before taking a called third strike. Pinch hitter Russell Branyan then walked on a full count pitch, loading the bases. Mets closer Armando Benitez was called on to finish the game. The Reds inserted an injured Ken Griffey Jr. to pinch hit for Ray Olmedo, but Griffey struck out looking on a 2-2 pitch to end the game.
Reds opening day starter Haynes fell to 1-8 with the loss and finishes the season with a 2-12 record and a 6.30 ERA. Guillen, easily having the best season of hs career, bats .337 with 23 home runs and a 1.013 OPS during his 91 games with the Reds before being traded to the Oakland A’s for for pitchers Aaron Harang and Joe Valentine. Guillen finishes the year batting .311 with 31 home runs. The Reds finish his seaon 69-93, fifth in the National League Central Division.
As for Luke and Dad….well, we made it back home and we had a big day. We have a baseball from that day, a special July 4th edition baseball as a keepsake from our first Reds game together. I picked it up tonight (July 3rd) and thought back to that day seven years ago. We had big time despite the loss and he was hooked. Today, we can sit and watch the game, discuss the plays, and keep score together. He loves to go to pregame batting practice, catch home run balls, and get autographs.
My boy asked me to pick him up and carry him the other day…he’s now age 10, and is 5’3″ and 123 pounds. Oh, my, I can’t carry him now. He’s now a slugging first baseman/pitcher with five “pitches.” He has talent, much more than his dad ever had. He’s also a huge baseball fan, as is his little brother, Jacob, age 6, who’s a “big hitter” and wants to be a catcher when he’s not busy following in his big brother’s footsteps. Little sister, Kristen, age 8, played baseball, but only for the trophies. She always took special pride in throwing “like a girl,” almost to the point of intentionally throwing that way to prove that she is a girl. She has amazing coordination and will be a great gymnastic cheerleader. I’m thankful for my wife who’s forced to “enable” this passion we guys have for baseball.
I’m lucky and I hope you are, too. I’m glad Luke’s first baseball game came on Independence Day because I can always use this holiday to jumpstart a conversation about our heritage; that is, the history of our country and even the role baseball has played in our development. Please take this moment to be thankful and count your blessings. We have baseball, we have the Reds, and we have our freedom.